‘STARS’ Camp students explore real-world STEM projects to develop deeper understanding of Richmond neighborhoods

Two summer camps created by the VCU College of Engineering outreach program gave Richmond City students the opportunity to engage in hands-on, community-focused STEM learning during the summer months.

STARS logo

The ‘STARS’ program hosted its first set of summer camps in July, engaging with 40 Richmond City students to encourage STEM learning and to highlight the role computer science and data analysis plays right in their hometown.

Founded in 2021, STARS—Supporting Tech Achievement for Richmond Students—brings together Bank of America, Richmond Public Schools (RPS) and the VCU College of Engineering to enhance awareness of STEM education opportunities in the Richmond region. It aims to support students from populations typically underrepresented in engineering and computer science, with a long-term goal of increasing the diversity of the tech talent workforce in Virginia.

“If you look at the millions of open jobs in the country there are unbelievable opportunities, in every sector of the economy, for individuals who have entry-level digital skills,” says Paul Rocheleau, executive director of strategic development at VCU Engineering and a STARS program coordinator. “What we want is to make sure everyone knows there are many organizations providing support and pathways to these opportunities.”

In 2022, STARS offered two different summer camp opportunities: the STARS Summer Challenge and the Richmond Technical Center (RTC) Camp. 

The STARS Summer Challenge was conducted predominantly online, with final presentations delivered in-person at the VCU College of Engineering. The camp used real data from the Science Museum of Virginia to explore the topic of urban heat islands: urbanized areas that experience higher temperatures than nearby areas. The 20 participants had two weeks to work with the Richmond-specific data given to them before presenting their findings in teams at the end of camp.

“The STARS program is much more than STEM education. The camps allow participants to understand the decisions that affect their lives and community,” says Jenilee Stanley-Shanks, director of outreach, diversity and inclusion at VCU Engineering and a STARS program organizer. “Deciding where to build a park, how to create a healthier environment— these are impactful, local projects initiated and implemented by real people. These students can grow up to be the people doing this work. They can use the power of data and careful analysis to change their city.”

Running simultaneously to the Summer Challenge was a three-week camp held in-person at the Richmond Technical Center (RTC), a year-round STARS partner location. In collaboration with Maxx Potential, the three-week camp welcomed 20 RTC students and focused on smart cities and sustainable engineering.

Both camps saw tremendous support from community partners and sponsors, including STARS program sponsor Bank of America, Code VA, the Science Museum of Virginia and Maxx Potential.  The Richmond Technical Center staff, and specifically Assistant Principal Alida Williamson Smith, were instrumental in the success of the RPS focused camp.

“It is significant that the business community, higher ed, non-profits and philanthropic groups are working together to have an impact in these students’ lives,” says Stanley-Shanks. “The entire Richmond community wants to see these young people given the skills and high-quality education that they need to succeed and thrive.”

For more information about STARS and future camps, visit the program website.